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Photo of Julian Schnabel at the AGO by Craig Boyko
Photo of Julian Schnabel at the AGO by Craig Boyko. © 2010 Art Gallery of Ontario.

Julian Schnabel: Art and Film

The artist lets it all out as his Toronto retrospective starts and his new film, 'Miral', is shown at international film festivals

Julian Schnabel is claustrophobic, and maybe that’s why his art takes so much space. He loves the big screen. His brilliant films fill it to the burst. Then there are his paintings, sprawling huge and greedily from wall to wall, as though nothing can contain his enthusiasm for the act of art. That’s probably the case. The Art Gallery of Ontario —more specifically, in Toronto—is currently holding a major retrospective of said paintings. At the same time, his new film, 'Miral', has just shown at the Toronto International Film Festival after debuting in Venice. The other night, Schnabel spoke at the AGO about the joys and necessities of making all kinds of art. He might have also mentioned that he hates the internet. Okay, he called it “the devil.” Sorry, Schnabel.

"I was in [the Art Gallery of Ontario] today and looking at a Cezanne painting. It’s mostly green and has a little bit of white in the middle of it. I looked at that painting and was able to see how much joy this man felt in the process of putting this painted marks on a rectangle. I was standing there and I thought, if I could spend the rest of my life at the Met [in New York]... I really could. Whenever I don’t feel good, or whenever there’s a problem, I can go in there and look at the excellence of the work in there and what’s preserved in that. And so it’s been my privilege to live as a painter. I’ve been a painter since I was a little kid. I didn’t know how to do anything else. I wasn’t very good at basketball. Last guy to get picked all the time. I never intended to be a filmmaker. I actually was a movie fan. I was always a big movie fan. I watched lot of movies ever since I was a child.

The landscape that existed in those movies was more interesting to me than my life at home, and I would paint those landscapes. And somehow, I stumbled over my own life and became a movie director also. 

Luckily, because I was a painter, I haven’t had the difficulty—like other directors—who don’t have another outlet for the work, and who depend on other people to be able to work. I was able to paint  and buy my own freedom, I guess. So if someone didn’t want to give me final cut on a film, I could say, fuck you, I don’t want to do it. Luckily the film world has been very generous and supportive of me.

My parents made me feel like I could do anything. They didn’t know anything about painting or about film. But they made me feel like I could do that, do what I wanted to do.

Why do people make paintings and why do filmmakers make films? Why do they do it and why are people interested? What are we talking about? There’s a feeling of what it is to be human that is preserved in the physical fact of painting or in the physical body of a movie.

Through art, you can actually transcend death. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to die. But it means that in the act of making a representation of life, which is different than life itself, you can actually affirm life. I like that idea. I don’t like death.

When I painted Andy Warhol, he was standing there wearing this pink girdle, because it was holding his stomach together, because he’d been shot and all his muscles were torn apart. I remember thinking how beautiful he was, how he looked like Peter O`Toole. His skin was very very bad, but he looked beautiful. He wasn’t a guy who said much about what he thought. At that moment when I was making that painting he was saying to me—he thought that Jasper Johns and Bob Rauschenberg were seen as serious artists, and he wasn’t considered the same way, and I found that to be extraordinary. I said, I know you’re doing these movies now, but you should stick to paintings, because your paintings are really great. And, uh, so I’m glad that he did both."


Julian Schnabel: Art and Film is on until January 2, 2011, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, 317 Dundas Street, West Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 1G4